Even before the Phactor has finished reading about all 50 plants that changed history, another book cataloguing the 100 most important food plants lands on my to-read table. My first thought is what a sad commentary on how overly busy things have been that in the past 4 months that so little progress has been made on the to-read books pile. And now a new semester is starting, so there you go. No time to read books let alone write books. But it is necessary to acknowledge that these people who get their books actually finished must be admired for that if nothing else. Oh, yes, the book, their book, a published book. OK, that's sort of whiny; the Phactor did get a pdf of his most recently published research paper just day before yesterday (ooo, color plates!), and with two more in press, it's not that the keyboard has been idle.
To start, how do you choose the 100 most important food plants? Well, by following the lead of Prescott-Allen and Prescott-Allen (1990, Conservation Biology) who documented that 103 plants provide over 90% of the food for 96% of the world's people, and that's just what the author, Ernest Small has done, with some quite well thought out adjustments to the list it came to exactly 100. The book is organized as a series of brief essays each of which includes some intriguing sections like the culinary terminology associated with each plant, which is totally delightful for the garbage minds among us (amaretto, amaretti, tortoni, frangipani, and so on for almond). Each essay has a bibliography (yea!) and specialty cookbooks (fun!) listed. The introduction to food is quite good, paralleling the introduction to food in my economic botany class, which is quite good too. Included is a nice section on the geographic origin of food plants. The book is a paperback with only black and white illustrations, but it's also a great book deal price-wise, and with a conference discount to boot, it was a must buy! There is quite a bit of overlap between the two books in terms of the plants listed, but the content does not overlap as much as one might presume, being primarily in the area of taxonomy and names, which in my case are fairly well known already, and thus skipped over. So both are recommended for those so interested.